After we went on patrol to the bazaar on the outskirts of Sar Howza on Monday, 3rd Platoon took us out to what used to be a girls school today. We got the usual briefing by the mortar pit before leaving. The school is infamous for having Taliban graffiti sprawled over the inside.
Apart from being told to watch out for IEDs by the graveyard the guys were warned by Lieutenant Wood and Staff Sergeant Nuñez not to get pissed off if the kids started pelting them with rocks again.
If the Afghan police who were to join the parade started firing in the air to scare off the youngsters, then so be it. This was there country. The soldiers were told not to hand out any presents. It hadn’t worked out last time, added Wood.
The armored vehicles climbed up the slope to Sar Howza and passed the graveyard that stretched on both sides of the road. It seemed a spooky place, but in a fascinating way – very different from our grave yards.
Some of the graves had tall masts next to them, some with fluttering flags. Stones lay on most graves and brush was growing through out the huge field. The whole atmosphere was strange. For the first time since we got here, the sky was overcast. It seemed that summer is beginning to loose its grip.
The local workers were making head way paving the street into the city. However, the asphalt ended just before the graveyard began. Captain Perkins said the insurgency starts where the paved road ends.
Soon after, we passed the typical red adobe buildings the typical wooden ladders leading up to the roofs. At the end of the streets we dismounted. Together with the Afghan police we made our way through alley ways towards the school.
At one point a bunch of kids ran off into an open gate leading into one of the bigger Qalats, compounds, once Axel started taking photos. His long lenses could be mistaken for gun barrels. They seemed genuinely scared.
Some of the kids were dressed in amazing colors. It seemed as if some wealthier families were living here on the outskirts. But you can’t really tell, because all is hidden behind the red adobe walls of the compounds.
The school lay right at the edge of town, a steep and rocky ridge rising up behind it. Because there were caves in the ridge some of the soldiers went up to check them for any traces of the insurgency. “This is a problem area”, Staff Sergeant Nuñez let me know.
Next to one on the caves they found a firing position made of rocks. The strangest thing about this war is that the enemy is almost like a ghost. This cliff on the edge of town is where the low intensity insurgency begins. Behind it lies Talibanland, an area so remote and inaccessible, that the soldiers would only seriously venture into it by helicopter.
To choose such a site for a girls school seemed pretty thoughtless – with the benefit of hindsight. The school was built in 2008 by the local Provincial Reconstruction Team. It operated for two months, before it was shut down.
The inside of the school was indeed sprawled with graffiti. Most of the ones I picked out for the interpreter to translate, he said were poems. Anything that could be removed had been taken away. Windows and doors had all been removed. It almost seemed as ghostly a place as the graveyard.
It would be interesting to find out if it really were the hard line Taliban who closed the school down. Perhaps the ultra conservative ways of the people of this town stood in the way of this project too.
Once again nothing much happened on this patrol – we didn’t get pelted with rocks – but there is a strange feel of enigma to this country. To a Westerner it seems unreal. To grasp it’s reality it probably would take more than dismounting from our armored spacecrafts and just dipping into the world outside the gated community of the cop.
In the afternoon we drove back out with three MRAPs and did some military stuff closer to home. This time we just drove a few hundred meters off road to secure the target area for a Mortar rehearsal.
They were shooting live mortar ammo half way up the mountain ridge in some kilometers distance to the west of the COP. The 120 and 81 grenades were close on target and sent out detonations echoing through the whole area.
We just sat in the desert near a wadi on some rocks chatted and watched.